Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis respond to the Department of Justice report. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)
The Baltimore Police Department is in the midst of serious reform efforts not unlike those being considered or implemented in police departments across the nation. Reforms are already being put in place, and over the next several years you will see BPD transform into one of the most progressive, accountable and transparent departments in the nation. Not only that, reform can and will occur parallel to our efforts to find new and innovative ways to drive down crime in the wake of a historically violent time in Baltimore that mirrors spikes in other big cities.
I am encouraged by those within and outside of the public safety arena who have leaned forward to offer their thoughtful recommendations to enhance transparency and build trust. We're making real progress in a very tangible way, and I look forward to meaningful collaboration with a variety of partners as we continue to execute policies and other best practices that America's 18,000 other police agencies will undoubtedly emulate.
Our administrative hearing boards (AHB) are now open to the public, allowing our citizens to have a front row seat in our disciplinary process. The new transparency page on our website now includes a schedule of upcoming AHBs; information on our new body-worn camera program; specifics on our newly revised and progressive use of force policy, along with copies of all other departmental policies; data on police officer involved shootings; our Department of Justice agreement in principle; instructions on how to file a complaint; and information about the Civilian Review Board.
Most are now aware that we implemented a body camera program, added cameras in transport wagons, and released a new and progressive use of force policy, which had not been updated since 2003. We have also purchased software to disseminate policy changes with built-in accountability, created a community foot patrol academic curriculum and embarked upon a History of Baltimore speaker series to bring more cultural awareness to our department. For the very first time, we also have a full-time LGBT liaison. All of our cops spend a full day with city youth in an Outward Bound program at Leakin Park, while all of our police trainees participate in a Pizza in the Precinct program to help them get to known the city's neighborhoods and residents.
BPD's social media presence is bigger and better than ever. We Periscope and Facebook Live all of our press conferences, profile bad guys weekly on Wanted Wednesday, and highlight an unsolved cold case bi-weekly on BPD Case Files.
Reform journeys are long and arduous. They do not happen overnight. When Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked DOJ to investigate the BPD, she knew full well that the change necessary to fix decades of decline would require commitment and patience. When I stood up a full-time team to interact with DOJ some 16 months ago, I knew from my previous experiences with a consent decree that our relationship had to start out on the right foot. The years ahead will see dramatic improvements in police-citizen interactions, sophisticated training focusing on de-escalation and equity, long-neglected investments in technology, constitutional crime-fighting strategies and progressive policies that reflect the best of 21st century policing. Again, I support having civilians on the administrative hearing boards and look forward to the next legislative session so our lawmakers can consider compelling it as opposed to merely allowing it pursuant to contractual negotiations.
Unlike most DOJ consent decree relationships, all of the aforementioned reforms have been self-implemented by the BPD — no court orders, and all before a consent decree is finalized. Early indicators of success? Our year-to-date excessive force complaints are down 36 percent, and overall complaints are down 22 percent. With a renewed focus on our Early Intervention System and the hiring of sorely-needed organizational psychologists, our police officers will be afforded an environment that gives them the help they need before problematic on-duty or off-day behaviors occur.
Policing is a challenging profession. Cops routinely deal with persons, families and neighborhoods in crisis. We often encounter persons on their very worst day. Policing is not for everyone, nor is it always easily understood. I remain convinced that increasing our transparency will result in a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing police in 2016.
In the meantime, we will continue to evaluate any and all recommendations to improve our profession. The residents of Baltimore deserve a police department that respects them and represents their values, while the brave men and women who wear the BPD uniform deserve the support, resources and technology required to police in a 21st century American city.